Monday, September 30, 2013

We Should Be Seeking for Goodness, Virtue, Loveliness, Etc. Outside of Mormonism

The Thirteenth Articles of Faith says: 

"if there is anything virtuous, lovely or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."

Two things:

1) According to our own capstone Article of Faith, virtuous, lovely, good and praiseworthy things exist that we won't have or understand unless we actively seek for them.

2) This says clearly to me that the LDS Church does not have a monopoly on those things - that we have to seek after some of those things to find them.

I love that aspect of "pure Mormonism" - and remaining active in the Church while seeking truth from all sources is something that is very important to me. Some members think they are at odds, but as long as I can do both, there are no conflicts in my own life.

I believe that the ideal heart of one's journey in the LDS Church is getting to the point where there aren't personal conflicts between being actively involved in the Church and seeking virtuous, lovely, good and praiseworthy things outside the Church, as well.  I also believe the journey can be individual and institutional - and that growth occurs best and most conprehemsively when such recognition exists at both levels. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Sunday School Lesson Recap: The Meaning and Purpose of the First Principles & Ordiances as Commandments

The lesson yesterday focused on the meaning and purpose of the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel when viewed as commandments: faith (in the Lord, Jesus Christ); repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.

As we have done each week this month, we defined each commandment, talked more in-depth about what each commandment means beyond just a simple definition, and ended with a discussion of the purpose of each one - the "why" of each commandment.

1) Faith

Definition: From Hebrews 11:1 - "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen"

Meaning: "Substance" means "the actual matter of a thing, as opposed to the appearance or shadow; reality" - or, in the footnote to Hebrews 11:1 from the Greek, "assurance, basis, foundation". "Evidence" means "indication; manifestation; proof". Thus, "faith" means the details of that for which someone hopes but can't see and the indications or proof they see that supports those hopes.

Purpose: We talked about scientific experiments and how they are built on the pattern recorded in Alma 32 and described in Hebrews 11 - how faith is hoping something enough to conduct some kind of experiment in order to gain evidence of some kind that supports the hope. We talked about how diverse such hopes can be, as well as how diverse such evidence can be, but I emphasized that faith disappears when knowledge is found - and how that is much easier in the realm of scientific experiment than spiritual experiment, since spiritual "evidence" can be so subjective and non-reliable in terms of replicability. That's why spiritual faith must be gained individually - and why individual faith differences need to be accepted, respected and honored.

We talked about Alma 32 and the statement that there are two groups of blessed people: those who are compelled to be humble and those who humble themselves without being compelled. We talked about how that applies to faith, as well. I used Mother Teresa as an example, especially since she said shortly before her death that she had prayed fervently for a special witness from God that he existed and approved of her life and never received it. She said she saw God's love all around her (seeing evidence for her hope) had not seen the actual object of her hope. I told the students that I don't know of a better example of faith than Mother Teresa, including those within our own Mormon heritage who I see as equal to her in that regard.

We then discussed how lack of faith (in any area, scientific, spiritual, emotional, inter-personal, etc.) closes minds and stops progress - because such lack stops us from seeking understanding we don't possess currently or naturally. We talked about faith in the context of statements like, "Study it out in your mind and in your heart," and, "Seek ye out of the best books . . ." and Joseph Smith's statement that Mormonism embraces all truth, no matter the source. The purpose of faith isn't to believe any particular thing; it is to keep our minds and hearts open to learn every true thing. We need to be open to changing understanding / further light and knowledge by always hoping to continue to see evidence for things we can't see currently.

2) Repentance

Definition: "change"

Meaning: openness to change, in any way that leads us closer to being more Christ-like / godly - We talked about (my own terms) "reactive repentance" - making mistakes and trying to stop doing them - and "proactive repentance" - seeking to develop godly characteristics to become more Christ-like / godly. We talked about the difference between extremely serious and/or habitual sins that require a "steps of repentance" process and, in some cases ("thorns of the flesh"), suppression and regular, run-of-the-mill sins that can be eliminated best by becoming someone who simply doesn't commit them anymore. I told them that God isn't God because of His ability to suppress bad or inappropriate "natural" inclinations; he is God because he is someone who doesn't have those inclinations. We talked about the danger of attempts to suppress and equating Godhood with nothing more than extreme self-control - that becoming like God is less of a "battle" or "victory" and more of a process of change - a "repenting", in the purest sense of the word.

Purpose: to move from an animalistic nature to a divine nature - One of the students said something that I thought was profound. She said that repentance is an attempt to "find and become my best self". (It's moments like that when I have faith that what I'm teaching is making a difference.)

I asked the students why faith is a pre-condition to repentance, and they got it - that we won't try to change unless we have hope that our efforts will allow us to change. We can't see future changes in ourselves for which we hope, but we can see others who have changed - or feel assurance that we can change.

3) Baptism

Definition: originally, "immersion".

Meaning: symbolic cleansing - a statement of intent to be purified

Purpose: I asked why we teach the need for baptism in this life when people can be exalted without having been baptized in this life. In other words, if it's not necessary for anyone who has died without it, what is its purpose? We talked about that for a while, and we settled eventually on the need to have a communal expression of our commitment to repent - to change. In other words, baptism is our way of testifying openly to each other and to God that we have faith and are willing to repent. I told them that I believe in the power of such expressions when they involved the whole soul in some real, tangible way.

4) The Gift of the Holy Ghost

Definition: a bestowal or present of the Holy Ghost

Meaning: ideally, being in tune with God in such a way that communication is possible, in whatever form that takes

Purpose: We talked extensively about this, and the conclusion was that completely open communication channels with God are intended to allow us to get to know God well enough to be helped in our efforts to become like God. In the context of faith, repentance and baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost is what allows us to see the evidence we desire to validate our hope, make the changes necessary to become whom we hope to become and make our baptismal covenant active and powerful in a real way. It's God's part of the contract, if you will - God's baptismal gift to us to help us succeed and become whom we want to become.

5) Enduring to the End

Definition: never stopping until the end; finishing

Meaning: Becoming perfect ("complete, whole, fully developed") - We talked about "the end" not being death, given the nature of our belief in eternal progression, but rather the point at which we are complete, whole and fully developed - whenever that occurs. It means becoming gods - the ultimate goal of faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ.

I told them about the temple wording of "one eternal round" - and I told them that I personally see enduring to the end as the eternal round that happens when faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost work together as one process - when something previously unseen finally is seen and moved from faith to knowledge only to be replaced by new faith in something yet unseen - repeated ad infinitum until, throughout all eternity, everything is seen.

I ended by telling them about my father's death the previous day and how grateful I am that I was raised to be able to say:

"Forever's in my heart and in my blood."

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Atonement Covers Those Who Leave and Those Whom We Drive Away

[NOTE: I understand the fine line I am about to walk in this post, but I believe it is important to strive to walk it - and to err on the side of charity rather than judgment. My request is that anyone who reads this post recognize the disclaimers ("some, many, multiple, sometimes, etc.") I am using and not jump to any conclusion not articulated clearly in the post itself.]

I have unshakable confidence that "pure Mormonism" doesn't condemn automatically those who leave the LDS Church - that, in many cases, God will credit to them the fact that they are acting "according to the dictates of their own consciences" in the decisions they make. Those decisions are not made in a vacuum, and, often, we (the average membership who are not aware of intimate details) simply have no idea what factors lead to someone leaving.  Personally, I am aware of multiple situations where I cannot argue with a decision to leave - nearly all of which involve circumstances that can be characterized legitimately as people being driven away by other members.  I wish badly people would not leave, but, in some situations, I actually agree that leaving is better in the moment than staying. 

The ideology of an Atonement wrought by someone who actually understands rejection and unfair treatment is FAR more powerful and expansive than is the Church and the membership, and that is a comfort to me - even as I mourn for those who suffer needlessly and unjustly. In fact, I think the power of the Atonement is most visible in just these cases - where the LDS membership can't quite grasp that some people who leave will be blessed every bit as much as those who never leave. We expect so much of "our own" (often so unrealistically) and see through our own glasses so darkly when it comes to how WE let them down and drive them away - and, while I realize how natural that tendency is, I wish badly that we all could rise above it.

Until that time when we can, I am comforted by the assurance that they will be judged by One who sees, understands and loves them fully - in the same way that He sees, understands and loves me.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Reevaluating the Scope and Reach of the Word of Wisdom

On Coke, caffeine, and the Word of Wisdom - Aaron R. (By Common Consent)

My comment in the thread:

I have said for a long time that we don’t understand D&C 89 nearly as well as we tend to think we do. This post highlights one of the reasons I believe that is so: We have defined “evil designs” so narrowly that we miss widely diverse manifestations of it all around us.

Exploitation and manipulation for personal gain at the expense of another is, perhaps, the clearest antithesis to Zion I can imagine.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Even More on Tithing: Pride Has Nothing, Really, to Do with One's Financial Situation

My favorite definition of pride, at the heart, is:

anything that causes someone to feel that they have more intrinsic worth than someone else.

For the rich, that often is their riches. ("I have more because I'm smarter, more educated, more frugal, more righteous . . ." In other words, "I'm better than the poor, because . . .")

For the poor, that often is their lack of riches. ("I have less because I care more about the important things, am less caught up in unrighteous pursuits of worldly accomplishment, am more willing to spend time with my family and sacrifice financially to do so, more righteous . . ." In other words, "I'm better than the rich, because . . .")

Pride has NOTHING to do with how much someone has financially, at the most basic level.

Sharing what you have with others can be a way to break down pride, in that it can be a source of humility and letting go of one's attachment to and self-definition from financial status. Seeing the actual benefits of sharing what you have is a much better antidote than "just giving" for many people, since it fills a basic human need to see the benefits of what we do. However, being able to give without seeing the actual benefits because of faith that the contribution actually is helping someone else is the ultimate form, in my opinion.

Tithing does that, in a very real way. We "know" the money is going to help build meetinghouses and temples in areas where we can't see the actual people who are benefited (less so now in our internet age, but still in concept) - and even the poorest can feel that sense of accomplishment (the type of pride that Pres. Uchtdorf mentioned is fine to feel) from their giving. It's important that they feel like a contributing part of the kingdom. (Thus, much of the crisis of faith over tithing for many people comes from lack of confidence in how tithing dollars are used - either out of a sense that "I know how MY MONEY should be spent," or simply not being able to see how it is spent, since "faith" in matters like this is hard to accept.)

For the poor, going to the Bishop for assistance helps break down the type of pride that says, "I'm my own person. I don't need help. My kids might miss meals and wear clothes with holes in the them, and my wife might go without basic necessities in some cases, but that's fine because I'm self-reliant and won't take help from anyone," - with an implied, "Damn it!!" at the end and a foundation of scorn for those who accept help from others. It often carries scorn for those who would help, and it generally carries scorn for those who accept help. That is pride at its most elemental level.

So, paying tithing helps provide "good pride" and can lead to getting rid of "bad pride" - including in those situations where people hoard their own money and don't share because, as King Benjamin said, they justify not sharing by assuming they would if they could. The point is that ALL "can" share and receive from sharing - but that sometimes has to be manufactured temporarily (or even long-term) for some people in some situations in order to accomplish BOTH objectives and not just one of them.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Monday, September 23, 2013

Institutional / Group Self-Reliance Is More Important than Individual Self-Reliance

1) I believe the ideal is NOT individualism in any form. Theologically, there are SO many examples of this concept within Mormonism.

a) "We without them cannot be made perfect (whole, complete, fully developed)." That is the foundational statement, perhaps, that underlies the theological basis for the earthly application.

b) "Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord."

c) "Salvation" can be described as an individual gift of grace, but "exaltation" always is taught as being comprised of more than an individual (or even individuals). The use of the word "sealing" is important, and it's important to remember that it's not used EVER to talk about sealing an individual to God; rather, it is used to describe sealing people to each other and those people, as a community / group, to God.

b) Zion is a vision of unequal people voluntarily cooperating to remove the excesses of their individual existences in order to create an "equality range" in all ways possible. (That is my own term, made up for this post, but I think it is much more precise and accurate than other ways I've heard people talk about Zion.) In practical terms, that means those at the "top" giving up something of their "topness" to raise those at the bottom out of the limitations of their "bottomness". Zion does not have to be a group of people who are totally equal in all ways, including financially; it can be a group of people who are united in all ways despite practical inequalities - as long as those practical inequalities are not large enough to divide. The first can be achieved, theoretically, in mortality; the second removes the community from mortal constraints and leads to "being lifted up".

(I believe when the story of the City of Enoch is considered as a grand mythological description of the entirety of mortality and the "exaltation" (lifting up) of a community, all kinds of things suddenly come into focus that are amazing to ponder.)

Those who "have not" cannot demand to be lifted up by the rich if they are not involved in the lifting up of those in the community they can serve, despite their poverty. To be Zion, ALL must lift ALL. There are no "free loaders" in Zion - meaning those who could assist others in some valuable way but don't. In theory, all is available to all, so the poor don't "possess exclusively" their "stuff" (including their money) - just like the rich don't possess exclusively theirs.

Therefore, if the ideal is to share all with all in such a way that there are no "needs" (or even "righteous wants") that remain unmet, ALL must be willing to do whatever they can to contribute SOMETHING to the welfare of the community in all possible ways - and it's really, really, really hard (if not impossible) to do that in mortality in an objective way that doesn't include a percent-based, financial contribution. (Otherwise, it would be easy to argue that a doctor or CEO could contribute one hour of her time to equal 20 hours of a janitor's time, for example.) Thus, in Zion, ALL contribute in ALL ways to the benefit of ALL - to varying degrees, based on their ability.

Financially, in mortality, however, in order to avoid having to analyze every situation and come up with a donation that is ideal for each individual (and perpetuate much of what killed the United Order attempt in the 1800's, in my opinion), everyone is assigned a percent of their "income / increase / profit / net worth / whatever" to donate - trusting that those who have excess will make up the difference for those whose contributions place them in a situation where they require assistance from the communal pot.

2) This is a "communal / governmental structure" first and foremost, not an individual-focused structure - and it is much closer to the United Order ideal than most people understand, I believe, when considered in theory and not in how it actually gets implemented and in how most members see it played out publicly. (There is much of this that occurs behind-the-scenes, whenever a Bishop or Branch President approaches a wealthy member and asks for an anonymous donation to help with XYZ situation - but, even then, it doesn't happen as often as the ideal teaches.)

3) So, in summary, we teach individual self-reliance, in theory, as a way to achieve communal self-reliance in practice - because without communal self-reliance individual self-reliance simply is not possible for all.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

My Father Passed Away This Morning: A Tribute

Almost six years ago, I wrote a post as a tribute to my father.  Today, almost exactly an hour after hearing of his passing, I am reposting it - with an edit in the final paragraph and an additional comment at the end.

The world lost an amazing man today - one who will not show up in any history text book and would not be counted as a hero according to worldly standards, but one who was as close to a perfect example of loving sacrifice and pure love of another (my mother) as anyone I have known - ever. 

I am happy for him today, since he has wanted to go for a couple of months now, but I grieve and mourn the loss of a wonderful man.  In a blessing I was able to give him about three weeks ago, he was released from the responsibilities of this world - and I know he is happy where he is now - even as I am certain he is sitting on the other side anxiously awaiting his reunion with his eternal sweetheart.

The following is my more formal tribute: 

My father called this morning to tell me and my wife that my niece had just died. My sister had taken in three cats very recently, and my niece - a physically healthy young woman - had a severe allergic reaction while playing with them. She passed away before the doctors at the hospital could restart her breathing.

(Apparently, I have a nephew and a brother - two different families, as well as one of my own sons - who have had allergic reactions to cats, but they weren’t serious enough to raise concerns among the family.)

My father’s words to us were concise. He is not given to emotional displays, and his natural stoicism was evident in his call. He said two things: “Treasure your children every day of your lives,” and “Keep animals out of your house.” I was struck by how this conversation with my father encapsulated him so perfectly. To understand this, you need to know my father.

My mom has a rare form of schizophrenia. My father was unaware of this, as was everyone else (including my mother), when they got married. He found out after the birth of my sisters (twins), when she was overwhelmed and her mind wouldn’t shut down and allow her to sleep. She had what was termed a nervous breakdown, which led to her clinical diagnosis.

From that moment forward, my dad shielded my mom from every care of the world so her condition would stay in remission, if you will. By all practical measures, he became my father and my mother. My mom wanted more children, so he agreed - knowing that meant his responsibilities would increase accordingly. He shouldered all of the financial, household, emotional, physical, disciplinary, organizational, educational, etc. responsibilities for his family and allowed his wife to be seen by the community as the incredibly spiritual woman we knew as our mother - a modern Mormon saint. People in town admired his work ethic, but they never realized what he was doing behind our doors - because he never once mentioned it in any way to anyone. He didn’t want others to view his wife as anyone other than the sweet angel he had married - to do anything that would lessen her in others’ eyes in a time when mental illness was not understood.

Until her first breakdown, my father served in various leadership positions in the Church. After that, he waited nearly 30 years to serve in another position that required he spend significant time away from home - until his children were gone and my mom could function without the stress associated with raising them. He left an extremely well paying job with incredible advancement opportunities to go back to the small town where my mom was raised, simply to ease her stress and allow her to function normally. He became an elementary school janitor, took a 50% pay cut and focused on loving and serving his kids - both at home and at his school.

Not holding a high profile church position, he came to be known in town as a salt-of-the-earth farm boy - a good man, but certainly not a leader. I bought into that perception until my mother’s second breakdown a few years ago, when her “sleeping pills” stopped working and her whole personality changed. It was only after this experience that I finally saw my father for what he is - as close an example of the Savior’s single-minded dedication to service and family as anyone I have ever known.

Why do I share all of this when it is my niece’s death that rocked our family’s world this morning? It is because my father was able to sum up the situation for his family in such a beautifully concise way. He has a rock-solid testimony of the Plan of Salvation - that he and my sister will see their (grand)daughter again. It is such a given for him that he never even thought to mention it. He knew it; he knew we knew it; it never crossed his mind to address it. Instead, just as he always has, he saw the big picture and acted as both mother and father to his family - giving us two beautifully balanced bits of wisdom - one spiritual that applies to all and one practical that applies directly to his own children. Therefore, I pass them on to you - knowing the second one will have to be adapted to whatever dangers threaten your own children’s well-being - physically or spiritually.

“Treasure your children (and parents) every day of your life,” 


“Keep (serious dangers to your children) out of your house.” 

In the words of Dan Fogelberg,

"I am a living legacy to the leader of the band." 

I hope and pray when I join him, eventually, I will have been a legacy of which he was proud.  

[Note: After I wrote the initial post, I was given additional information about the cause of my niece's death.  There were complicating factors beyond an allergic reaction, but they don't change my tribute to my father in any way.] 

Sunday School Lesson Recap: Meaning and Purpose of Modern Commandments

I just spent over 30 minutes typing the lesson summary for today, and I lost it somehow when I tried to post it.  Thus, I am writing an outline form summary this time. We talked about each component of the outline below, to various degrees.

The Meaning and Purpose of Modern Commandments, including Things We Often Don't Call Commandments

- Started by repeating that there are things I see as commandments and things that I see as rules built on commandments - and that the key is determining if there is a way to follow a commandment or a rule and be in compliance with the two great commandments to love God, self and others. Used the earring example from Pres. Hinckley's talk (where he said explicitly that he was expressing his own opinion) to show how non-commands can morph into being seen as commands by overzealous members. Referenced the Biblical concept of building hedges about the law. 

- Asked students to help me list commandments we hadn't discussed yet. Limited list to a few we could discuss adequately.  Final list was: Tithing; Word of Wisdom; Church Involvement (combined phrase by me from "Attend Church" and "Callings in Church"); Share the Gospel; Prayer.

1) Tithing

Meaning = "a tenth" (Stressed that there is no official calculation method dictated by the Church - that different members pay on gross, net, "increase", weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, annually, whenever they get money, etc.)

Purpose = from a student: Detachment and humility

Purpose = I added "Fund the Church" (Discussed Old Testament model and modern similarities and differences; discussed exactly what tithing funds and what it doesn't.)

2) Word of Wisdom

Meaning = Read verse 2; discussed "temporal salvation" (related to time; worldly; temporary)

Purpose = From verses 3-4, protecting the weakest saints from evil and designs of conspiring men (Described scene with men conspiring to market products to increase and spread addiction, to make more money, even while knowing the terrible effects on the consumers who buy the addictive products - planning early death, in many cases, specifically to make money. Used example of people who handed out chewing tobacco to elementary students at the county fair in Alabama when we lived there. Those are evil designs, created through real conspiracy.)

3) Church Involvement

Meaning = participating in the Church organization (Stressed that participation to whatever degree is possible is the standard, and that this standard is not definable to anyone except the individual participants. Thus, "properly involved" might be participation in every scheduled meeting or it might be someone who can't leave their house but calls or writes letters or knits presents or smiles at everyone they meet. Also discussed, again, my situation in Missouri when we couldn't attend anything but Sunday meetings and Wednesday activities - and my High Council assignments, due to our financial situation.)

Purpose = Broadening circle of friends to love and accept beyond what is natural (Establishing Zion in a real way, like the orchestra described in Elder Wirthlin's "Concern for the One" - valuing all instruments instead of just the piccolos.)

Purpose = Running the Church organization and not making 20% of the membership do 80% of the work.

4) Share the Gospel

Meaning = Teaching faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. (Discussed the practical and conceptual difference between "sharing the Gospel" and "doing missionary work".)

Purpose = Help people return to God and be like Him.

Purpose = Share what is valuable with others. (Discussed young man in class who will be baptized soon and other young man in class who invited him to come to church and learn about the Gospel and the Church. It was a very touching discussion to have a young man say, sincerely, "I asked him because I care about him," and to have the other young man say, "I am here because I want to be closer to God than I've been in the past.")

Talked about why we don't have more people in our church meetings who are different than we are in obvious ways - about why we tend to share the Gospel with people who are like us and with whom we are comfortable. Asked them to look outside their normal circle of friends when sharing the Gospel.

5) Pray

Meaning = "talking to God" and/or "communicating with God" (Discussed difference and stressed that everyone prays in whatever way they feel they can communicate with God. Shared that I have no problem having a prayer in my heart always - that I try to have and open heart and mind, to send thoughts and feelings heavenward whenever I have them - but that I struggle with formal, kneeling, spoken prayer. I understand the value of both, but the fact that I am praying continually makes it hard for me to break from that to verbalize formal prayers individually.)

Friday, September 20, 2013

More on Tithing: Should the Destitute (or Merely Poor) Pay Tithing?

The destitute "tithing" amid their destitution is a Biblical concept, personified most notably in the story of the widow's mite.

1) I believe the key is the accompanying admonition that those who are NOT destitute not "grind the faces of the poor" and the idea that those who sacrifice like the widow in that story need to be supported and helped by those who have excess. In other words, the idea is that tithing is a command for all, but those who exhibit the most faith are those for whom that tithing is a real, practical sacrifice - and that such faith and sacrifice need to be honored and "validated" by the generosity of those for whom it is not such a real, practical sacrifice. In our current "system", that means that those who can should pay a generous fast offering so that those whose tithing leaves them needing assistance can receive it without shame or guilt of any kind.

I believe in the LDS Church's institutional stance in this regard. I absolutely love that concept and principle, especially since it values the widow's mite exactly as the millionaire's millions and allows the truly destitute to feel like active contributors despite their destitution (which I believe is extremely important) - and I really wish as a people we acted that way to a greater extent than we do. If we really lived that ideal (or even came much closer to it), our world would be a much different place - a true Zion. 

I understand that the way the concept is implemented too often isn't ideal - but I believe it's important for those who wouldn't be asked to contribute "naturally" be asked to contribute anyway, as long as they then can receive assistance in their need.

2) The financial situation analysis that is supposed be used in the LDS Church is something with which I don't struggle at all - again, as long as it is done properly as an attempt to help people become more self-reliant. Seriously, I have known situations where people were receiving church assistance without having to budget carefully - situations where the assistance wouldn't have been needed if the person or family would have made some simple budgetary changes. The financial analysis allowed them to do so - which kept them from taking assistance that could have been given to someone who really needed it. As is the case with MANY things, there is a huge difference between the ideal and the practice in too many situations - and this is one of those cases. 

3) Finally, I believe self-reliance is a secondary goal in this discussion - in that institutional self-reliance is critical to being able to alleviate poverty for those who can't be self-reliant at the individual level. "Zion" is the ultimate goal - or, "communal self-reliance" is more important than "individual self-reliance". The poor always will be with us (meaning there always will be those who are not financially self-reliant), so those who are able to contribute to their care should do so - ideally to such an extent and degree that "poverty" vanishes even though "the poor" still exist.

How does that relate to tithing?

To me, in theory, tithing (or any other system that does the same thing, specific amount notwithstanding) is the great equalizer - in that it allows ALL to be active contributors in the community toward the building of the community and in that it provides others an objective motivation (even if they lack it instinctively) to help those who are helping the community.

There are two polarizing positions in this issue (applied to governmental discussions, as well):

1) The Lord helps those who help themselves.

2) The Lord commands us to serve and give to others, regardless of what they do with our assistance - even if it doesn't "help" them.

Both of those positions can be and are justified through our canonized scriptures, but, again in theory, I believe the combination of tithing and fast offerings is a really good way to combine them and manage the paradox in a practical way. I like that we provide assistance also to those who do not pay tithing, but I absolutely would encourage those who need assistance to "tithe" what they have and receive assistance to make up what they gave.

King Benjamin's sermon is astounding to me in multiple ways, but the acknowledgment that "the poor" can be just as proud in their poverty as "the rich" can be in their excess is deeply, deeply profound. Donating in destitute situations and then accepting help from others is a great way to mitigate and eliminate that natural pride of the poor - and I can say that, having been in that situation more times than I wish.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Internalizing the Principle of Tithing, Regardless of Specific Recipient

I know someone who quit paying tithing when he became inactive in the LDS Church.  As I thought recently about what I wish I would have said to him at the time, I came up with the following: 


The command is to tithe to help others - in essence, to participate in his work and his glory at the most practical level. I believe in the principle and symbolism of tithing, so I believe in tithing.

In the Old Testament, tithing essentially was the equivalent of our modern taxes and fast offerings (taking food to the storehouse, for example); now, it primarily funds the physical expansion and maintenance of the "structural church" (including things like college campuses that open up educational opportunities to members at greatly reduced cost). In other words, I'm fine seeing it now as a "religion tax" - especially since I have no automatic aversion to taxes, in and of themselves.  I'm OK with that change in practical effect, as the structural church is important to me and many others - and since we have added fast offerings to replace the OT tithing.

Also, a temple recommend is very important to me, for lots of simple and complicated reasons, so I pay tithing to the LDS Church - and I believe my motives are "pure".

If someone else doesn't believe in the purposes which tithing accomplishes in our own day (if the dictates of their own consciences don't direct their tithing to the LDS Church), I'm not about to condemn them for directing their tithing elsewhere in a way that does good and helps others - or discourage them from paying a tithing to another entity. I believe that certainly fulfills the spirit of the law, even if it doesn't fulfill the letter of the LDS application - and I believe all will be blessed for following the spirit of tithing as they understand it.

I absolutely would prefer that someone tithe for a good cause than that they not tithe at all - and I think someone who stops paying a tithe (or making some sort of significant, sacrificial donation) just because they no longer feel like supporting the LDS Church financially probably "practiced the program" of tithing without ever understanding and embracing and internalizing the principle and symbolism of tithing.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Knowledge of Some Things Does Not Eliminate the Need for Faith in Others

I believe that there is an element of faith within Mormonism that is completely absent from most of the rest of Christianity - the idea that we literally have the potential to become like God.  It's one thing to believe in God - and even to have "faith" in God; it's quite another thing to have faith in what I believe the Bible actually teaches about our relationship to God, the Father, and God, the Son. 

The capstone condemnation in JSH 1:19 is that people can have a form of godliness but deny the power of God - and I believe the element of faith that can be missing even in the very presence of God is not that God exists but that God can and will take us from our imperfect, ungodly state and change us into His perfect, godly state.  According to most of the rest of Christianity, that is Mormonism's central heresy - while I believe its lack is the central abomination of their theologies, since it eliminates the Biblical concept that requires the deepest, most empowering faith. 

To apply that to the after-life, I look at the pre-mortal life and see, perhaps, that aspect of faith as the great divider of those who accepted the Father's plan and those who didn't.  Perhaps the 1/3 said, in essence, "We are scared to take the chance you outline in mortality, since we can't believe it will work out as you say it will. We will accept Lucifer's plan, since he has an obvious guarantee - even if it means we will return in the exact same condition as we leave."  Perhaps the 2/3 said, "We don't understand what we can't see, but we believe, nonetheless." 

I know this is reading our theology into a parable that might not have been meant to convey this message, but it's interesting to look at the parable of the talents in that light.  Two (of three) servants took what was presented to them and acted in confidence, while the other one (of three) was too scared of what he couldn't conceive to act as he was required to act.  Two had "active faith" - but all three knew the Master and what kind of man he was.  That applied to when they were away from the Master's presence, but it could apply just as easily to tasks given in his presence.

In that regard, knowledge of one thing (the Master's existence AND his demands of them) didn't eliminate the need for faith in other things - especially in the fundamental nature and potential result of their relationship with the Master.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sunday School Lesson Recap: The Purpose and Meaning of the Ten Commandments

We continued the discussion from last week (the meaning and purpose of commandments and what they teach us about God) by focusing on the Ten Commandments. The only one we didn't discuss this week was honoring parents, since we talked so much about it last week.

In each case, we talked about how the commandments can be read, based strictly on the words themselves, and, in some cases, discussed why we have to look at the overall concepts being taught (the purpose) to understand the meaning in a way that makes sense to us.

1) Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

We talked about the cultural context of that statement - that the Israelites were part of a world that believed in competing gods, much like the gods about whom we read in ancient Greek mythology. This command originally wasn't about "competing interests" (like money, fame, jobs, etc.), as many people talk about now; it was about not leaving the "LORD thy God" - their deliverer - to start worshiping a different god. I told the students that I think it can be a good discussion to talk about other things that get in the way of our worship in this day and age, but I stressed that this command was direct, explicit and obvious in its time.

We talked about other religions and "their gods" - and how important it is to understand those other religions enough not to say they are breaking this commandment if they really aren't. First, it was given to a particular people who had accepted and followed "the LORD their God", not to all the world. Second, Muslims and Jews clearly worship the same God we do, even if they do so differently than we do and use different names. Buddhists worship a different god, but I told them that I still identify with Buddhism's teachings more than most of Protestant theology - so we shouldn't use this commandment to dismiss other religious teachings automatically.

2) Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.

If verse 4 is read literally and comprehensively, we would not be able to make any images of the sun, stars and moon - or trees, mountains and animals - or fish, corral or ocean animals. The key is found in verse 5, where it says, "Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them." It's not making images that is the problem; it's what we do with them - how we use them - if we substitute them for God in our worship - if we can't worship without them - if they "become God" in a real way for us.

I asked the students about crosses and the rosary - if these things were graven images that should not be used. It was interesting to see them think about it, and one student finally said, "It depends on how they are used." We talked about the difference between them helping people remember God and their covenants and people not being able to pray to and worship God without them - that we could say the same thing about the Priesthood garment I wear or a CTR ring. Any of these things can be a symbolic reminder, or it can be an object of worship - and, if the second, it constitutes a graven image.

We talked about verse 6 and the statement that God is a jealous god who will visit the iniquities of people to the third or fourth generation. We read the footnote definition for "jealous" (possessing sensitive and deep feelings) and the natural effects of people's beliefs often being passed on for at least three or four generations - that it's not God saying, "I'm jealous, so I'm going to punish your grandchildren and great-grandchildren for what you do", but rather that actions have consequences that naturally last that long. We also read verse 7 where it says that God will be merciful to all who love him and keep his commandments, meaning the generational effects can be changed and avoided.

3) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

First we talked about the Jewish prohibition of speaking the proper name of God, but that the actual wording doesn't teach that - since it includes the qualifier "in vain". We talked about what "vain" means: senseless or foolish; without real significance or worthless; ineffectual or futile; arrogant or without authority; etc. We discussed how each of these definitions can apply to using the name of God: using the name as nothing more than an exclamation, using it in a vow ("swearing" in the Biblical sense of that word), saying "God damn you" (multiple definitions apply to that one), etc. We talked about the purpose of the command being, at the core, humility and proper reverence.

4) Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

We talked about why this is a commandment, focusing on verse 11 - which says that we are to keep it sacred as a day of rest, because God set it aside for rest after he completed the six stages of creating the earth. This means that God said, "I rested, and I command you to do the same thing." We talked about the practical need for rest (using the athletes in the class as an example they all would understand) and the need to clear our minds of earthly things in order to contemplate heavenly things.

One of the speaker in Sacrament Meeting did a great job talking about this one, so we didn't talk more about it.

5) Honour thy father and thy mother.

We talked about this last week, in detail, so we skipped it today.

6) Thou shalt not kill.

The same speaker in Sacrament Meeting (an active soldier in the army) talked about this one, as well, so we focused exclusively on understanding the original meaning. We looked at the footnote that gives the actual Hebrew word - "murder". I asked the students for reasons why that is an important difference to understand, and they came up with the following:

a) People can claim it's wrong to kill animals. (We talked about that justification for vegetarianism, and I told them that I can respect that stance, even if I don't read such a prohibition in the command itself.)

b) The people obviously didn't see the command at that time as all inclusive, since they were engaged in multiple wars to gain a new homeland.

c) A comprehensive prohibition would mean nobody could kill in self-defense or to protect someone else - or, for example, to stop someone from torturing someone else, no matter how gruesome.

7) Thou shalt not commit adultery.

We talked quite a bit about this one last week, as well, so we talked only about why the core command was focused on adultery and not fornication of all kinds. We talked about the personal and social effects of adultery, and I shared a couple of my experiences working in communities where the out-of-wedlock birth rate was 90% or higher.

8) Thou shalt not steal.

This also was addressed in Sacrament Meeting, with a great example of using the office copy machine to make copies of an invitation to a personal party, so we just listed a few more examples of stealing that are so commonplace most people don't see them as theft.

9) Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

I asked them what they normally hear this command shortened to say - how they think it would be explained to a five-year-old. They immediately said, "Don't lie." I then told them that is NOT what the commandment actually says - and that the difference is important.

We talked about what a "witness" is - an official testimony given in court. It is a statement describing what someone has seen. Thus, a "false witness" would be giving an incorrect description of something seen OR not giving a description of what was seen - actively giving a false witness or refusing to give a true witness. We talked about how they feel when they hear things that people say about them that are not correct - or how they feel when they know someone knows the truth but won't protect them by telling it.

We then refocused on the phrase "against they neighbor" - with the emphasis on "against". Bearing false witness means hurting someone in a real way, knowing that what is being said or not said is not true. This is why gossip actually is a FAR worse sin than lots of other things we tend to consider to be worse - because it very often is a case of bearing false witness, either by passing along something that is not true about someone else or by presenting it in such a way that people think it is a personal witness when, in reality, it only is a repeat of what someone else said - which that person might not have seen personally. It serves almost always as a "witness against thy neighbor" - and, lacking sure knowledge, it generally is "false" in some way.

(On a personal note, not shared in the lesson: This is why I try really hard not to make authoritative, declarative statements about people, currently living or dead, if I am not absolutely sure about what I am saying. Gossip isn't only about the living. I tend to use more qualifiers and disclaimers than most people, specifically because I don't want to "bear false witness" - especially when I have no personal witness to bear.)

I finished by pointing out that this command says nothing about lying to protect someone - like telling a Nazi that there are no Jews hiding in your house when there are Jews hiding there - or lying to a rapist about where your wife or daughter is - or any other instance where not telling the truth is not a "witness against" someone.

I told them that I do not advocate lying about very many things, but I understand the commandment itself isn't about all forms of lying; rather, it is focused on one particular kind of lie - the kind that hurts others, particularly in a formal, legal situation.

10) Thou shalt not covet.

We were out of time, so we hit the initial reaction regarding definition ("wanting something someone else has"), and I pointed out that it can't be that all-encompassing, since we are commanded to want some things others have if we don't have them. I told them the best definition of "covet" I have heard is "wanting something so badly that you are willing to take it from the person who has it" - not to gain it ALSO, but to have it ONLY - not to share something with, but to take something away.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Repentance is the Center of Our Eternal Existence

"Love is the first and great commandment in the law."

"Faith is the first principle of the Gospel."

"To obey is better than to sacrifice."

So, what is the most important aspect of mortality? 

I submit that it is repentance - not the type of "steps of repentance" we often discuss, but the pure heart of the word itself.  Here is why:

At its root, repentance means nothing more than “change”; the Gospel teaches that, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can be changed ("repented") from what we are now to what God created us to become; we need to have faith that what we are promised in the Gospel actually can happen in order to change (repent); our whole purpose in life is to change (repent) from our “natural” state to an “exalted” (God-like) state; baptism is the outward expression of our commitment to change (repent); the gift of the Holy Ghost represents God’s promise to help us change (repent); thus, everything for which we ought to aspire in this life is centered and hinges on repentance.

It’s like a mathematical given: Our ultimate goal is to become like our Father and Mother in Heaven; we aren’t like them now; thus, we need to change in order to become like them; thus, everything else fails miserably without changing (repentance).

Just like all the law and the prophets hang on love, and just like faith in Jesus Christ is the foundation of all else, and just like obedience (acceptance of what someone else wants) is better than sacrifice (doing what you want to so, even if it hurts) - our eternal progression hangs on our acceptance of everything else, and that acceptance is expressed through our willingness to try to change (repent) and allow ourselves to be changed (repented). 

As a theological aside, that’s why “easy grace” (confession alone saves) is such an abominable concept, since (at its extreme) it completely denies the prupose of our very existence, guts true repentance and derails the change that repentance enables.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

When Part of the Body of Christ Is in Pain

No matter how how you might feel about the overall topic of the post, the final paragraph is one of the best statements about Zion and fellowship I have read. 

All Is Well in Zion - Mark Brown (By Common Consent)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

He Who Is Without Sin: or, Casting Stones at the One from the Safety of the Ninety-and-Nine

On the anniversary of the World Trade Center bombing, I am reminded of a stunning post written by one of my favorite writers in the Bloggernacle.  It doesn't deal directly with the events of 9/11/01, but, as I am inclined to do, I was struck by something in the post that has relevance to how we see others who are different than we are.

I want to focus this thread on the aspect of how we sometime cast stones at those whom we should embrace as fellow saints and pew mates, but I also want to mention the broader lesson I believe this post can teach - that we can would as deeply by failing to accept people for whom they are as we do in more open, direct, obvious ways.  Sometimes, especially when there is no attack from which defense is necessary, efforts to defend are just as damaging and painful as overt acts of attack. 

(As sometimes is the case in public blogging, the comments unfortunately spiraled a bit into a discussion that was . . . disappointing . . . to say the least.  However, there are many thought-provoking comments, as well - so, if you choose to read the comments, understand that upfront and read selectively.  The post, as I said, simply is stunning.) 

Throwing Stones - Tracy M (By Common Consent)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Sometimes, Forgiveness Doesn't Include Forgetting

Forgiveness doesn't always include forgetting or complete trust on our part - nor does it have to include asking that consequences not be imposed. It simply means, at the most basic level, a willingness to give up the natural tendency to condemn and to insist on personal retribution and to not carry around destructive emotions. Full, Godly forgiveness is described in terms of forgetting and agreeing not to impose deserved penalties, but God is the only one who really can see into someone's heart and make that determination correctly. We are to strive for the ability to understand and apply full, Godlike forgiveness whenever possible, but . . .

There are situations where we simply can't forget or completely trust without restriction - like someone who has sexually abused children. There's no way I would advocate anything that would result in leaving children alone with that person, even if I was 100% convinced the person had repented, and even if I really did forgive the person. You don't drop off an alcholic in a bar, even if that alcoholic was completely sincere in his or her commitment to abstain. I also would not advocate the person be freed from having to serve a standard (even if minimal) jail sentence for those acts, even with sincere repentance and my forgiveness. Some things actually do require imposed consequences, imo.

I believe we should strive to love those who have hurt us, but I also believe that is a very different thing than forgetting, not advocating proper punishment, etc. There are people in my ward and my stake and my job and in my extended family, for example, whom I really do love - but if their actions are destructive . . .  Even if I can handle it, there's no way I'm exposing my wife and children to it, especially if it's just to prove that I really do love them.

I think we make many things much harder than they have to be. Idealism is great - but it really is only a theory, since none of us actually live in an ideal situation. It's OK to modify idealism to strike a balance with realism, as long as we never give up on the concept of the ideal and never stop looking for ways to get closer to it in whatever ways are possible. 
Too often we conflate these things and end up thinking we can't forgive. Forgiveness is hard enough; throwing totally unrealistic and even destructive elements into the mix can make it impossible.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Sunday School Lesson Re-Cap: The Purpose and Meaning of Commandments

This month, the focus is on commandments. I decided to model my approach on what I did when we covered ordinances and covenants - focusing on the meaning and purpose of commandments, generally, as the foundation of understanding what commandments can teach us about God, and then dissecting specific commandments to see how they fit into the overall framework of what commandments can teach us about God.

We began by looking in the Bible Dictionary and seeing that "command" and "commandment" are not defined there. I told the students that I think there are some things that are assumed to be so simple and obvious that we tend to think they don't need to be defined in a place like the Bible Dictionary but that I disagree - strongly. I believe commandments are a complex subject, worthy of an entire month of study. We did read the entry for the Ten Commandments, since they are the foundational commandments of our Judeo-Christian heritage.

We then defined "commandment". We got "rule" - which then was amended to "God's rule" - which then was changed to "a rule that is so important that it has to be followed or dire consequences occur". I asked where else the word "command" is used, and we talked about the military application. I pointed out that we now allow soldiers to not obey a direct order if that order is particularly egregious but that soldiers used to be discharged, jailed or even killed automatically for not following a direct command. We talked about how commandments and punishments have changed over time - how we no longer accept some things that used to be seen as commandments and no longer punish people the same way for not obeying commandments. We used honoring parents, adultery and polygamy as specific examples, and we talked about what we can learn about God from the fact that commandments have changed throughout history.

The students suggested the following things:

1) God gives us commandments that are best for our own circumstances - that the world changes and, therefore, some things about how we need to live change, as well. We talked about what it means to believe in continuing revelation and how we can't get stuck following outdated rules simply because people used to accept them as commandments.

2) God gives broad commandments, and we are the ones who make the smaller rules that we accept as commandments.

We used the second reason as a springboard to discuss the old Mosaic Law - to understand how ten original commandments ended up being over 600 specific rules. I told them that we would talk about that in more detail as we discussed specific commandments this month.

I asked them if we can rank commandments in order of importance. They all agreed that we can, so I asked how we might do that properly. They came up with the following, which we discussed - after my disclaimer that we can't let ranking sins allow us to think that it's okay to commit "lesser" sins simply because we aren't committing "greater" sins.

1) By severity of consequence to others: Thus, as a rule, killing is worse than stealing.

2) By severity of consequence to ourselves: Thus, adultery is worse than not keeping the Sabbath holy.

3) By personal temptation: Thus, lying can be "worse" than killing, if someone is not inclined at all to kill but is inclined to lie.

With that foundation, we read Matthew 22:35-40:

35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

I asked them what "tempting him" meant in that context, and they understood it meant it was a test - a way for the man to start an argument and discredit Jesus.

We talked about what it means to love others as ourselves: not doing anything to someone else that we wouldn't want done to us; doing things for others that we would want others to do for us; sacrificing what we want to make sure others have what they need; etc.

I then asked them what it means to have all the law and the prophets "hang" on the first two, great commandments.

They understood the concept quite well, and we settled on the analogy of multiple articles of clothing hanging on a rack. Remove the rack, and the clothing falls to the floor - lying there gathering dirt and dust. The thing that is the "hanger" provides support so what hangs can be used properly - so it can be effective and proper. Also, from one of the students, without the support of the hanger, we could have all the clothing in the world but it wouldn't help us - since we wouldn't want to wear clothing that had been lying on the floor getting dusty and dirty. We talked about how we can "keep every commandment" without it changing us in any way if we don't keep the two great commandments upon which all the others hang - that, if we obey without love, we are following the Mosaic Law and not the Law of Christ. Conversely, if we really love God, others and ourselves, we will keep the commandments naturally - especially if we understand how each commandment can be grounded in love.

With that in mind, we turned to the list of commandments we had written on the board and talked about each one of them in the context of how they can be related to loving God, others and ourselves. One of the students had mentioned earlier that a Seminary teacher had said that each negative command ("Thou shalt not") could be rephrased in a positive manner ("Thou shalt"), so we used that concept in analyzing each command we discussed.

Honor they parents: How do we do that within the context of love?

We honor righteous, caring parents by showing our love for them - accepting their right to lead us and set rules, becoming who they want us to become, etc. I explained the Protestant idea that honoring God generally is framed in terms of praise - but I pointed out that, given the choice of either extreme, I would MUCH rather have my children become whom I want them to become than to hear them praise me every day. Praising God is important, but it's more important to "honor" God by becoming what he has asked us to become.

I told them that they all have wonderful parents, but I asked them how someone with lousy parents can honor them. What about a girl who grows up with a father who beats and sexually molests her? How can she honor him? We talked about how breaking the cycle and becoming someone different brings honor to the family name - how that person can live in such a way that others who used to curse or belittle the family name can praise it, instead.

Thou shalt not kill: How do we reframe that in the context of love?

We can love others so much that we treat them the way we would want to be treated - and, out of that love, not kill them. I mentioned the acceptable exceptions, like self-defense, protection of others being threatened, justifiable wartime actions, etc - but, even then, we can do everything possible to avoid such an extreme action.

Thou shalt not commit adultery: How do we view that in the context of love?

We can love our spouse so much that we would not hurt him or her by breaking our marriage covenant. We can love the other person and their spouse so much that we would not hurt them by contributing to their marriage covenant being broken.

We ran out of time, so we will pick up the discussion next week and continue to talk about other commandments (and rules), their meaning and purpose, and how they can help us understand God.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Finding One's Self When Life Sucks

Sometimes, it's impossible to deny inspiration.  I wrote and scheduled this post before I found out on Tuesday that my job was being eliminated.  I guess the post and title are more appropriate today than I realized when I wrote and chose them.
One of the central paradoxes of the Gospel Jesus of Nazareth preached is that to find one's self, what someone thinks of as "self" has to be lost first.

Most people never understand that paradox fully in this life (and I am one of those most people when it comes to understanding it "fully") - but I gave up trying to find myself within an organization a long, long time ago. Instead, I have focused on helping others find themselves by encouraging them to find ways to lose themselves. My personality lends itself to that, but my experiences also have helped me understand a little better how wonderful it can be to lose myself within a group.

I want to share a story here that I hope will clarify what I mean:

Long story short, I had finished most of 11th Grade math by the time I left 7th Grade, but my rural junior and senior high schools had no idea what to do with someone in that situation - so I repeated 3 1/2 years of math until my class reached in 11th Grade where I had been individually in 7th Grade. One of the reasons I came to accept that situation is that in 8th Grade, I had a math teacher who couldn't teach. He knew the math, but he was a terrible teacher.

I had two choices: focus on myself and pout or focus on the rest of the class and teach. I chose to teach - and I found my life's love of teaching.

I did about four weeks' worth of homework in one night, then, when the teacher finished introducing the material to the class and went back to his office, I got up, actually taught the concept in a way that the other students could understand and walked around the class helping individuals with the problems that were stumping them. I was, in practical terms, the teacher of that class. Literally, in a very real and powerful way, I came to understand the joy and wonder that can occur when we put aside what we want individually (what we deserve and what "should" happen) and focus on helping others who aren't where we are get to where we are. Looking back on that year, I wouldn't trade it for the world.


I learned something important about myself and what I perceive to be an important principle - and what I want to focus on for the purpose of this post is that I learned it through an experience that sucked in every objective way imaginable.

It shouldn't have happened; the educators in those schools should have been more aware of me and my needs and done SOMETHING to help me; they had a professional commission and duty to do so; they shouldn't have "kicked me out of" the educational track I was on when I arrived; they failed miserably in fulfilling that commission.

I'm so glad they did. In fact, I think I'll be grateful eternally that they did.

I'm not saying that such an experience is right for everyone, and I'm not saying it's okay for people to screw up big time in the performance of their responsibilities, and I'm not saying anyone else should (or could) have had my own experience in that situation and been grateful for it - but I am saying there is a power in many Gospel paradoxes that is impossible to grasp until we're involved in a searing, unfair, difficult struggle that forces us to weigh competing ideals and discover there is real, important growth hidden in the struggle - a balance that is personal and individual and intimate and enlightening in our own efforts to find our own "I am".

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Personal Request: Employment Opportunities

I usually don't use this forum to make personal requests, but I am doing so today: 
Over the past two years, total undergraduate enrollment at the college where I have worked in Admissions has reached it's highest total ever, and the freshman retention rate last year also was the highest ever.  I am very proud of my role in those accomplishments.  However, due to budget concerns and a desire to maximize the operating surplus, the college is enacting budget cuts - and, in the case of the Admissions Office, my position was eliminated this week as a result.  Thus, I find myself looking for a new position. 

I have a resume, along with references and letters of recommendation, that I can send to anyone who wants to receive it.  To receive a copy, email me at: (raydegraw at yahoo dot com) - the same address that can be used to let me know of any available positions. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

One of the Central Paradoxes of Mormonism

I believe pure Mormonism teaches, at the most fundamental level, that salvation and exaltation have nothing to do with religious or denominational affiliation in this life, despite how much we stress the importance of missionary work and earthly conversion.  We teach that this life is the most important part of our eternal existence (and I agree with that concept, since "now" is all over which we have any control) and that missionary work is of paramount importance (and I love and am involved actively in that work), but, in the end, all will be held accountable only for how they lived what they believed - meaning good, sincere people of all ages will be blessed equally regardless of whether or not they hear and accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this life.  Thus, we have an emphasis on the primacy of preaching the Gospel coupled with a theology that says all will be blessed fully and graciously even if we do not do so. 

This represents one of the most fundamental paradoxes of Mormonism - the need for specific conversion work now coupled with no eternal consequences on others for not doing that work. 

In case anyone disagrees with the universal nature of the grace we teach in the LDS Church, I will try to explain what I mean:

1) "As in Adam ALL die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (I Corinthians 5:22) 

The Atonement pays for physical death for ALL who ever have lived - no matter what religion they believed in this life and what denomination they attended, if any. This covers atheists and agnostics, as well. "All" means all. Period. Therefore, all are saved from physical death, and all except the Sons of Perdition are redeemed from spiritual death ("Hell" - endless life in the kingdom of Lucifer). This means that all who ever have lived obtain a reward for having lived here on Earth, even those who end up as Sons of Perdition. Everyone except the Sons of Perdition inherit a degree of God's glory in a divine kingdom.

2) Those who die without having had a chance to hear and, more importantly, understand the Gospel will have that opportunity at some point in their eternal existence.

Therefore, even if someone dies without having accepted the Gospel in any obvious way, they can be exalted - if they lived the best they could according to the dictates of their own conscience. Furthermore, there simply is no way to look inside a person's heart and know if that person truly had an opportunity to understand the Gospel fully - which is highlighted by the next point.

3) There will be LDS and non-LDS in all kingdoms of glory.

All modern prophets have said that there will be those who are not LDS in this life who will end up in all the kingdoms of glory, and all modern prophets also have said that there are those who are baptized, active members of the LDS Church in this life who also will end up in all the kingdoms of glory - since where we end up essentially is a result of who we become (what glory we can abide when all is said and done), not who we appear to be to others. It is possible for a baptized, confirmed member to jump off the deep end into wickedness and depravity.  In other words, all modern prophets have said that baptism and confirmation alone are no guarantee of exaltation - and, they also have said that even active attendance won't cut it if it's not accompanied by a spiritual conversion. 

4) Ultimately, God is the judge of all, since we just don't understand anyone well enough to make final judgments of them.

This means that we really don't know who has had an opportunity to understand the Gospel fully and who hasn't. We often think we do, but we just don't know so many things about others that we can't be their judge. Only God can see into each soul and know the right reward for them. That is important to understand if we really do accept the idea that God is the Judge and that we simply can't make that determination fully and with perfect clarity.  I take, "Judge not, that ye be not judged" much more literally than many people do - especially when it comes to assumptions about where others will be when all is said and done. 

5) There is no obvious, objective, outwardly-visible criteria (at least to us) that defines who will be where - at least, not on a large scale that can be applied to all
This is hardest to accept and internalize when it comes to those of whom we have high expectations - especially our own family members (both physically and at church).  We generally are hardest on those we think we understand - and we generally are most judgmental toward "our own".  However, when it comes right down to it, we simply don't understand anyone well enough to make a perfect judgment about their ultimate, eternal fate. 
So, Buddhists, evangelicals, Muslims, Catholics, atheists, agnostics, Mormons, Baptists, wiccans, and just about any other type of person, including inactive LDS and those who have left the LDS Church, can be exalted - as long as they lived the best they could according to the dictates of their own conscience (including doing the best they could to repent to the best of their understanding and ability). That's God's call as the Eternal Judge, not ours as fallen (wo)man - since he can see performance compared to potential, while all we can see is performance (and, really, only public performance, in many cases). We might make value judgments based on our limited understanding of the full picture, but we are commanded not to do so (in too many scriptural passages to begin to list here) - because we are flat-out wrong in too many cases
I understand fully the issues such a view brings with it, but I believe it passionately.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Monday, September 2, 2013

Self-Reliance in Adulthood; Safety Nets in Childhood

A friend of mine was talking once about wanting to experience things on his own and reach his own conclusions - that he didn't want to "rely on what others say".  I understand that sentiment completely, but I look at a bit differently.

There are some things that I don't want to experience and am fine "taking someone else's word for it".
For example, I think I know myself well enough to avoid beer and cigarettes because of their addictive qualities and my tendency toward addictive behavior. (blogging? - *grin*)  My family is multi-generational Mormon, so I don't have a lineage I can look at and see if alcoholism runs in our genes - but I'm VERY wary, given what I do know about the disabilities that do manifest in my ancestry.

Granted, that's not precisely "taking someone else's word for it" at this point in my life, but it certainly was in my earlier, formative years - and I am very grateful for that, since it possibly kept me addiction-free until I could understand myself well enough to make that decision for myself in an informed, intelligent manner.

So, my summary:

Absolutely, I want to make my own choices and not rely strictly on someone else's word on most things - but I also believe all of us accept the need for a reasonable, safe foundation of "someone else's word for it" until we are mature enough to craft "our own word on it".